Avoid sugary drinks, highly processed foods, refined grains and sweets.
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When following a low-calorie diet, your body will burn fat for fuel but only after stored glycogen is depleted. The Weight-Control Information Network of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases defines a low-calorie diet as 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily for women and 1,200 to 1,600 calories daily for men. Except when under medical supervision, women should get at least 1,200 calories per day, and men should get at least 1,500 calories.
Glycogen Vs. Fat
Losing weight requires that you burn more calories in a day than you take in. Burning 500 to 1,000 more calories than you eat daily will lead to about 1 to 2 pounds of lost body weight per week, which is considered a safe rate for weight loss. Carbohydrates, broken down and stored in your body in the form of glycogen, provide your body's preferred fuel source. After your glycogen stores are depleted, your body will start to break down body fat -- and lean muscle mass -- for fuel.
Regular cardio exercise is an excellent way to burn excess body fat when on a low-calorie diet. A 2009 review published in the вЂњOchsner JournalвЂќ reports that although your body burns mainly glycogen during the first 20 minutes of exercise, your fuel source switches to stored body fat after 30 minutes. Therefore, American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for overweight and obese individuals is to exercise 45 to 60 minutes five to seven days weekly to shed pounds.
Preventing Muscle Loss
Although creating a calorie deficit by eating a low-calorie diet does help burn body fat, it can also cause loss of lean muscle mass -- which is often an undesirable side effect of weight loss. Eating enough protein and resistance training regularly helps maintain muscle mass during weight loss. According to a 2010 study published in вЂњMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,вЂќ young, healthy athletes who consumed 35 percent of calories from protein, or twice as much as the generally recommended 15 percent, experienced significantly less lean muscle loss during weight loss than a control group.
To help you burn more calories than you eat and effectively shed body fat, plan your low-calorie diet carefully. Consume foods from all the major food groups -- dairy, protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. While protein helps preserve lean muscle tissue, it also increases satiety and helps your body burn extra calories, according to a 2009 study published in the вЂњJournal of Nutrition.вЂќ Lean meats, poultry, seafood, low-fat dairy foods, egg whites, legumes, soy products, seeds and nuts are rich in dietary protein. High-fiber foods also help create a calorie deficit because they too boost satiety, and calories from fiber aren't fully digested or absorbed by your body. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are all fiber-rich.